DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Leonard "Red" Kelly, who passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 91.
"Red Kelly was one of the most accomplished players in the history of the Detroit Red Wings, a tremendously impactful figure to the game of hockey, and a wonderful person and family man," said Red Wings Governor, President and CEO Christopher Ilitch. "I would like to extend our most sincere condolences, on behalf of Marian Ilitch and the entire Red Wings family, to his wife, Andra, and all of his family and friends. Red was a true hockey legend and had the remarkable distinction of being considered one of the best at his position as both a defenseman and a forward during his career. His on-ice achievements speak for themselves, between eight Stanley Cup championships and his collection of league awards and honors. Beyond that, he was a gracious and humble person, and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him."
Kelly spent 13 seasons with the Red Wings, and in 2018-19 he became just the eighth individual to have his jersey retired by the organization, as his No. 4 sweater was raised to the rafters prior to the game on Feb. 1 vs. Toronto, where he spent the final eight seasons of his decorated career. A 1969 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Kelly won eight total Stanley Cup championships with Detroit and Toronto (four with each), making him one of only seven players in National Hockey League history to have won six-or-more Stanley Cups, and the only one to do so without ever playing for the Montreal Canadiens. Kelly was also unique in having success as both a forward and a defenseman, as he spent the first half of his career on the Red Wings blueline from 1947-60 before switching to center full-time when he played for the Maple Leafs from 1959-67.
Born on July 9, 1927 in Simcoe, Ontario, Kelly was originally signed at age 19 by the Red Wings after he was noticed by a Detroit scout while attending St. Michael's College School in Toronto in 1946. Kelly led the team to a 1947 Memorial Cup championship as the top team in Canadian major junior hockey, before advancing directly to the NHL for the 1947-48 season without spending any time in the minor leagues. In 1949-50, Kelly became just the third defenseman in Red Wings history to reach double-digit goals, repeating the feat each season until 1958-59. Kelly led the league's defensemen in goals and points for five-straight seasons from 1949-55 and led Red Wings defensemen in points for nine-consecutive years from 1949-58. Kelly was the first-ever recipient of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's top defenseman following the 1953-54 campaign.
"Red Kelly was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game," said Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman. "He truly redefined how people viewed the defense position, and how it was played for decades to come. Being a former captain of the Red Wings during an era that featured numerous Hall of Famers demonstrates how well-respected he was within the organization, which is a sentiment that I know is still true today. Red was a great man and the hockey world will sorely miss him. The Red Wings organization would like to offer its deepest sympathies to Red's friends and family."
Kelly contributed to a prolific Red Wings offense that included the likes of Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay at forward and was part of a dynasty which captured Stanley Cup championships in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. Kelly also served as the Red Wings' captain in his final two seasons with the team from 1956-58. He was named to the postseason NHL All-Star Team in eight-straight seasons, making the First All-Star Team from 1951-55 and 1957 and the Second All-Star Team in 1950 and 1956. His numerous accomplishments also featured four Lady Byng Trophies in 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1961 for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, and he finished in the top-five in Hart Memorial Trophy voting as the league's most-valuable player in four seasons during his time with Detroit. He produced 472 points (162-310-472) in 846 games with Detroit and totaled 823 points (281-542-823) in 1,316 career NHL games.
Kelly went on to appear in eight seasons with the Maple Leafs and saw his offensive numbers increase after a switch from defenseman to forward. He produced three-straight 20-goal seasons and added four more Stanley Cup championships in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967, ultimately ending his career with 12 appearances in the Stanley Cup Final. He began a decade-long career as a head coach upon retiring with the Los Angeles Kings (1967-69), Pittsburgh Penguins (1969-73) and Maple Leafs (1973-77), and he saw his teams qualify for the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons. Away from the ice, Kelly was elected a federal member of Parliament in 1962 and served in Canada's legislature for three years while still playing for the Maple Leafs, splitting time between Toronto and Ottawa throughout the season.
Kelly is survived by his wife of 60 years, Andra, and their four children and eight grandchildren.